Wed. Dec 1st, 2021

Islamabad, Pakistan Human rights group Amnesty International has called on Pakistani authorities to end the use of forced disappearances as a tool of state policy, as it releases a new briefing documenting the effects of such illegal abductions on the families of those missing. .

The information session, titled “Living Ghosts” was released by the UK-based legal group on Monday, and is based on interviews with 10 family members of people “whose fate remains unknown after being abducted by Pakistan’s security services”.

Researchers have also spoken to the victims of forced disappearances who have since been released.

“Forced disappearance is a cruel practice that has caused indelible pain to hundreds of families in Pakistan over the past two decades,” said Rehab Mahamoor, Amnesty International’s acting South Asian researcher.

“In addition to the unspeakable anxiety of losing a loved one and having no idea about their whereabouts or safety, families are enduring other long-term effects, including poor health and financial problems.”

Forced disappearances have long been documented by local and international legal groups in Pakistan, and in 2011 the Pakistani government set up a commission of inquiry to document and investigate cases of the disappearances, known in Pakistan as “missing persons”. .

Since 2011, the commission has received complaints in at least 8,154 cases, of which 2,274 remain unresolved, according to the commission’s monthly report for September 2021.

In 2020, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), a legal group based in Switzerland, said the commission “has completely failed to address entrenched impunity” and has not prosecuted any perpetrators of the crime, even in cases where the whereabouts of the disappearances were located or the person was released.

Earlier this month, Pakistan’s lower house of parliament approved a bill that, for the first time in the country’s history, outlined and criminalized the practice of forced disappearances.

It defined the act as the “unlawful and unlawful arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by an agent of the State or by any person or group of persons acting with the authority, support or consent of the State. ” , followed by a refusal to acknowledge the fate of the missing person.

However, legal groups have criticized the proposed law – which is still pending in parliament’s upper house before it can become law – for not doing enough to bring offenders to justice. A controversial part of the law also criminalizes “false allegations” of forced disappearance, subject to five years in prison and a fine of 100,000 Pakistani rupees ($ 570).

“These amendments provide loopholes for authorities to continue to make people disappear by force and will discourage families of victims from reporting cases of disappearance,” Amnesty said in its brief, arguing that the proposed bill was “deeply flawed”. and do not meet the standards of international people. right law ”.

Nasrullah Baloch, middle down, leader of the Voice of Baloch Missing Persons, speaks while people hold posters and portraits of their missing relatives during a news conference in Islamabad [File: Anjum Naveed/AP Photo]

‘Serious physical torture’

In interviews with family members of the disappearance, Amnesty has documented allegations of authorities refusing to file police reports in cases of forced disappearances allegedly carried out by the government, court orders or subpoenas not acted upon by intelligence or other security services, and numerous other rights violations.

“Most of the families of people who disappeared by force who spoke to Amnesty International said that not only could they not use the legal system to locate their loved ones, despite the constitutional precautions and the applications of the “Penal code as protection against forced disappearances, but that they had significant problems in even submitting a First Information Report (FIR) to the police,” reads the information session.

The report also documents allegations of intimidation of victims’ families to stop their activism or legal follow-up on the issue.

Zakir Majeed, an ethnic Baloch student activist in the southwestern city of Quetta, was abducted on June 8, 2009 in the presence of two friends. Amnesty quotes Majeed’s sister as saying she was threatened “with the same fate as her brother if she did not keep quiet”.

Al Jazeera reported about Majeed’s disappearance in 2013 and 2014, during investigations into the practice of forced disappearances. He remains missing.

In another case, a man was abducted in 2014, and seven years later, an individual who identified himself as a member of the police intelligence service contacted his brother “to ask for more information about his brother. to process case ”.

Rather than result in his brother’s release, the altercation led to the unidentified man conducting a raid on the victim’s home and kidnapping his younger brother on March 9, 2021.

“[The man] told Amnesty International he had received a message from a family member of law enforcement agencies warning him not to speak, to stop attending demonstrations and to take down all his posts on social media to draw attention to to establish the kidnapping of his brothers, ”Amnesty said in a statement. information session read.

“But what else can they possibly take from us that they do not yet have?” Amnesty quotes the two missing men’s brother.

Researchers have also spoken to the victims of forced disappearances who have since been released.

Inam Abbasi, a writer and publisher, was abducted on August 4, 2017 by unidentified men and released 10 months later.

In addition to numerous physical ailments resulting from the “severe physical torture to which he was subjected”, Amnesty researchers said Abbasi also showed multiple symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can be caused by common incidents such as the lazy of a doorbell.

“I believe someone came to take me away again,” Abbasi told Amnesty.

Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera’s digital correspondent in Pakistan. He tweeted @AsadHashim.

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